Due to the nature of autism, the social deficits exhibited often limit the quality and amount of social interaction these children experience. Family members therefore tend to be the people they interact with most frequently. Parents in one study were found to over-compensate for their children with autism, feeling the need to fill in for their developmentally delayed child, which may be doing more harm than good. Siblings did not compensate thus providing the child with autism more opportunities to initiate social interactions (El-Ghoroury & Romanczyk, 1999). Two areas where children with autism appear to have deficits are theory of mind and executive functioning. McAlister and Peterson (2006) conducted a study to assess the extent that theory of mind and executive functioning abilities in typically developing children are affected by the presence of having or not having a child aged sibling at home to play with and talk to. Their findings indicated that the social influence of a child aged sibling is beneficial to both executive function and theory of mind in typically developing children during the preschool period (McAlister & Peterson, 2006).
To replicate and extend McAlister and Peterson (2006) on interrelations between number of child siblings (1 to 12 years) and theory of mind and executive function development, to look at families where one of the children has autism.
Theory of mind (ToM) and executive functioning abilities (EF) of 38 children with a diagnosis of autism (1 female, 37 males) aged between 3 years 11 months and 13 years 0 months (M=7.38, SD=2.75) were assessed using a battery of theory of mind tasks including tests of appearance reality, false belief, change in location and pretend representation, and a battery of executive functioning tasks. Their verbal mental age (VMA) was assessed using the PPVT-III and their autism diagnosis was confirmed using the autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS). Number of siblings and sibling order was noted. Only child aged (12 months to 12 years) were included. (Assessment is continuing with 60 children planned to be completed by May 2010).
Preliminary results suggest a significant relationship between number of younger child aged siblings and both VMA, r=.532, p<.01 and EF r=.406, p<.05. ToM has a non-significant positive relationship with number of younger siblings. There were non-significant negative correlations between number of older siblings and ToM, EF and VMA. ToM composite scores were significantly correlated with age, r=.467, p<.01, EF composite scores r=.545, p<.01 and VMA r=.497, p<.01.Preliminary analyses of the presence of siblings found no significant effects for ToM or EF but a significant effect for
Conclusions: Having younger siblings seem to have positive effects on the VMA and EF of children with autism. As yet effects for ToM have not been found. Preliminary analyses have not found any significant effects for having older siblings, but possible negative effects may be due to an over-compensatory effect which parents of children